Tentative amount for Champaign high schools: $150 million
CHAMPAIGN — Voters in the Champaign school district will likely be asked to approve $150 million to build a new Central High School and renovate Centennial High School, about $30 million more than early estimates for the projects.
The Champaign school board Monday night discussed a tentative ballot question for the Nov. 4 election and will take a final vote Aug. 11.
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The money includes $98 million for Central and $52 million for Centennial, but no money to renovate Dr. Howard Elementary School or almost $100 million in other needs identified in a 20-year master facility plan Monday night.
If voters approve the measure in November, the school district would borrow $150 million in bonds and repay them using higher property taxes. The district's tax rate would rise by 51 or 52 cents per $100 of assessed valuation, equaling about $160.58 per year for the owner of a $100,000 home, school officials said.
That would still keep Champaign's tax rate at the low end among Big 12 Conference schools, said school attorney Tom Lockman.
The total will sound like "a lot" to voters, acknowledged school board President Laurie Bonnett, but after hearing about the aging facilities and curriculum needs at the two schools Monday night, she said $150 million is "mean and lean. And it's a good number."
"I'm hopeful," she said of the measure's chances in November.
The money would deliver the educational program teachers have been clamoring for and "match the value of this community as to price," added Superintendent Judy Wiegand.
A district poll showed 47 percent of voters would support a referendum of that size.
"People want nice things. Unfortunately, we have to pay for them, and you have to maintain them," said school board member Lynn Stuckey.
Initial estimates were $80 million for Central and $40 million for Centennial.
School officials said those figures were from two years ago, and construction costs have risen since then. They were also based on "rule of thumb" estimates for a school with 1,600 students, whereas the new numbers take into account the actual educational programs that will be offered and will cover 1,700 students.
What would the $150 million buy? Besides the new football, baseball, softball, tennis, track and soccer fields discussed to date for Central, school officials outlined the academic needs at both schools Monday night.
It would pay for 33 classrooms, four small classrooms, 15 science labs and seven physical education stations at the two schools, to meet standards laid out in the district's "Great Schools, Together" initiative.
Additional spaces would be provided for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) programs and meet "21st Century science standards," officials said. Collaborative spaces would be provided to support project-based learning.
The buildings would also support such programs as manufacturing/welding, an automotive lab, architecture/engineering lab, construction/trades lab, health professions, broadcast journalism and graphic arts.
Central would also get an improved auditorium, outdoor spaces for PE, and a marching band practice area.
Both high schools would be fitted with modern mechanical and electrical systems for technology needs, new windows with screens, energy-saving improvements, dedicated arts and music spaces, band spaces with more storage and practice spaces, special-education rooms, proper storage and band practice rooms.
Wiegand said the district also needs to replace Centennial's indoor pool or build a new one at Central. That cost is built into the overall $150 million estimate.
"I don't believe we need a pool at both high schools, but we do need to replace it," Wiegand said.
Kathy Shannon, who has two students in Champaign schools, criticized the board's decision to build the new Central at Neil Street and Interstate Drive. That site dramatically reduces the ability of students to walk or bike to school and increases sprawl and traffic problems in north Champaign, she said.
"I'm disappointed in the board's choice of the Interstate Drive site, and I won't vote for the referendum even though I know we desperately need new high school facilities," Shannon said.
Board member Jamar Brown said the board has spent years researching available sites.
"If people vote no (while) waiting for the perfect location, we will never have a new high school. ... There will never be any growth in this district."
As part of their "Master Facility Plan," administrators also outlined almost $100 million of other projects to be done over the next 20 years.
The plan includes:
— Rebuilding Dr. Howard Elementary School on a new site with a new K-8 school with three strands — three classrooms per grade — and a total of 608 students. Cost: $30 million.
— Renovating and expanding South Side Elementary School from a two-strand to a three-strand school and 383 total students. Cost: $14.5 million.
— Continuing to expand the International Prep Academy on Kirby Avenue as an elementary school. Cost to be determined.
— Rebuilding Edison Middle School on a new site with room for 750 students. Cost: $27.2 million.
— Renovating Jefferson Middle School for 675 students. Cost: $11.3 million
— Renovating Franklin Middle School for 675 students. Cost: $14.5 million.
— Using the current Central High School for administrative services now provided at the former Columbia school, the Mellon Administrative Center, the Family Information Center and the Novak Academy. Those facilities would be closed. Estimated savings: $194,217 annually. Renovation costs not provided.
The plan would be to use proceeds from the 1 percent sales tax to fund those projects as they become available.
Editor's note: This story was updated to correct the total for other building projects in the district's 20-year master plan.